Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Forty Days and Forty Nights

Our congregation was asked this Sunday at Church to join in a forty-day fast to refrain from a practice that is an integral and important part of our lives, such that its absence would affect us profoundly. The purpose of this fast is to bring about a personal transformation. It is in times when we fast from something essential to us, that we realize more about who we are and more about our relationships and the meaning of our spiritual practices.

After significant deliberation (and after listening to the advice of a close friend from Church), I have made the heartwrenching choice to refrain from blogging for forty days. *Sharp gasp for air.* And... "Blogging" means taking food pictures, generating new blog ideas, checking web stats on SiteMeter or Google Analytics, and commenting on and reading other (marvelous and tempting) blogs.

For forty days, Passionate Eater will remain an empty blog, devoid of new words and new spirit. But the old words and old spirit will live on during that time, and hopefully, beckon you to return again.

This is going to be incredibly difficult for me, because I adore (and thrive off of and have a drug-like addiction to) reading food and gossip blogs.

I love learning from all of you. I love your pictures. I love your writing, your prose, your poetry. You are perfect in everyway.

Most importantly, I am very grateful for and honored by the wonderful friendships that I have formed as a result of food blogging.

Okay, it is almost midnight. You know what this means.

Let the countdown begin! Check back here in forty days for a new post, if you still care about me then. I promise that my love will be the same for you! (Whew, I'll have over a month of your posts and comments to catch up on! That is an amount greater than my summer reading assignment in high school!)

Till then, please visit the absolute-best-blogs-in-the-world (which are conveniently listed on my sidebar)! Like Eat, Drink, & Be Merry, The Epicurious Wanderer, I Am Mad, and I Eat, Jinerous, Mmm-Yoso!!!, Monster Munching, Pink Nest, and Rachel's Planet, just to name a few of my particular favorites!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Traveling Eater Series: Reno

This weekend has been a blur. My friend and I decided to take a last-minute weekend trip out of San Francisco to Reno, so that we could gamble like low-rollers in a small-time poker tournament, gorge ourselves on monstrous buffets, and relax in the warming Nevada sun. My primary culinary goal for our trip to Reno? To do great meals in Reno the Rachael Ray way, for under $40 a day. Also, my friend planned our trip to coincide with Reno's Italian Festival, where we could participate as audience judges in the Italian Tomato Sauce Cook-Off.

Day One:

On our way out of San Francisco, we stopped in Berkeley to grab a taste-bud scorching meal at the spicy Vik's Chaat Corner.

We started with two golden-brown, pyramid-shaped samosas filled with a spicy potato mixture, and accompanied by a chunky dipping stew replete with bulbous chickpeas, minced onions, and a verdant nest of cilantro to garnish.

If that wasn't filling enough, my friend and I also ordered the Indian-style plate lunches. I ordered the shahjahani sea bass curry and my friend ordered the mangalore chicken curry with coconut milk. Each lunch plate came with a fork-fluffed scoop basmati rice, an ample ladleful of dal (lentils), unleavened tortilla-like round of chappati bread, a wafer-crisp pappadum cracker, cooling cucumber and yogurt raita, and strong-flavored pickled achar with tamarind essence.

The sea bass was stewed in a chocolate-colored curry gravy.

And the hunks of chicken breast was similarly stewed in a golden curry sauce.

We avoided dessert although we were seriously tempted by the bakery glass display-case that showcased the extensive dessert selection.

Grand total for our lunch? Around $20.00.

Once we arrived in Reno we hightailed it to the best sushi place in Reno (and arguably better than the majority of sushi joints in the Bay Area), Sushi Pier. The moment we strolled in the restaurant, we were overtaken by the friendliness of Reno natives. We ordered the all-you-can-eat-sushi dinner, and it was an extravagant affair. Once the waitstaff and sushi chef discovered that we were "tourists," they gave us extra special treatment, made us dishes that were off-the-menu, and giving us many "secret tips while staying in Reno." Before even ordering, the sushi chef laid multiple multi-colored and multi-flavored dishes before us. My favorites included a fresh mussels topped with a chilled seafood puree, salmon roe, and scallion ringlets;

Shrimp carved into boat-shaped vessels, and topped with hand-molded sushi rice, and a cool seafood salad made with scallops and shrimp;

A tempura-battered and deep-fried sushi roll stuffed with unagi and cream cheese and topped with toasted black and white sesame seeds and scallions sliced on a bias;

And finally, a tremendous roll of sushi layered with creamy sheets of avocado, fresh and vibrant slices of tuna, and stuffed with a chilled sushi rice which coddled elongated shrimps wrapped within the roll.

The total at Sushi Pier (plus tax and tip) was $50.00 for both my friend and I, making the grand total for Day One to be $70.00. So at $35.00 for Day One (my half of the $70.00), I made it well below Rachael Ray's $40.00 a day! Okay, I didn't have breakfast, but on to Day Two...

Day Two:

After a quick breakfast of a banana and strawberry yogurt purchased from the convenience store downstairs near the casino lobby, we headed off to check out the automobiles at the National Automobile Museum. My favorite vehicle in the complex? I was impressed by the 14-carat gold plated 1981 DeLorean. That ride is pimped.

Walking around the museum definitely revved up our appetites, so we quickly stopped for lunch nearby in downtown Reno at Silver Peak. My friend ordered the prime rib sandwich which came with a glass dish filled with a soy sauce-based au jus, and huge circles of crunchy onion rings.

Thankfully, I selected the "healthier option" of an ahi tuna burger stuffed with thin slices of pickled ginger and a refreshing Asian slaw made with a sweetened rice wine vinegar dressing.

With my breakfast totaling a mere $3.00, and lunch totaling $20.00 for the two of us, we were well on our way of reaching our goal of eating in Reno for only $40 a day.

After lunch, we decided to check out the old mining ghost town of Virginia City, where we perused the Civil War era exhibits in the Fourth Ward School Museum and did some tourist sightseeing on the main street in the town.

My friend and I decided rustle up some grub at Ruby River Steakhouse, a Western-themed chain with country music blaring from the restaurant speakers. As soon as we sat down in our darkened booth, our waitress plopped a metal pail filled with salted peanuts before us.

I think I was overcome by the moment, because I decided to order the appetizer sampler, which was an overdose of deep-fried and greasy carbs. The sampler came with a deep-fried onion blossom, breaded and battered jalapeno peppers stuffed with melted and stringy mozzarella cheese, buffalo wings, and an oily and heavy slice of bread blanketed with a melted cheese and scallions. Although the sampler was calorie-laden enough, I just "had" to dip my sampler items in the thousand island dressing, the blue cheese dressing, and the mint jelly that came with the appetizer. Whoa, I am full just talking about it.

My friend's order came with a fresh garden salad,

And a side of vegetables.

He ordered prime rib (again) with a shredded mound of sinus-clearing horseradish and a dark beef broth of au jus.

Although I was already full at this point, my order also came with a salad, and I chose Caesar salad because I love cheese.

Although I already had my share of fried foods from our appetizer, I was surprised to see the battered and deep-fried potato that came with my order. (Sadly, I ate it all, chives, sour cream, potato, and deep-fried batter.)

I ordered the barbequed chicken and pork ribs combo plate. (Yes, I ate all of this too.)

When the bill came out, I realized that I overshot for that day. The bill was $60.00 plus tax and tip, meaning that our combined total for the day was $80.00 plus my $3.00 from breakfast. I had spent $43.00! Okay Rachael, you won this one, but I'll show you that I can make it under $40 a day on my last day in Reno!

Day Three:

In the morning, I was a little tired of overeating, which I had been doing for the past two days. But, I wasn't "completely" tired of overeating, so my friend and I visited the breakfast buffet at the El Dorado, where helped myself to eggs, eggs, and more eggs.

My total for breakfast? Free! I used a coupon my friend and I found online which we were able to redeem since we stayed at the El Dorado Casino.
In the afternoon, we hit the bustling streets to visit the food booths and take part in the competitions during Reno's Annual Italian Festival. We were very impressed by the huge vat of risotto--which is the largest risotto pot in the world, according to the Guinness's Book of World Records.

My friend and I also got to mingle with the winners of last year's Italian Tomato Pasta Sauce Cook-Off in Reno, and paid only $1.00 for a bowl of plain spaghetti. We slathered our soggy (not at all al dente) spaghetti noodles with multiple ladles of Italian sauces from the Italian Sauce Cook-Off comeptitors, which we obtained by by visiting the individual sampling booths. After tasting the competing sauces, we then voted for who we thought was Number One.

Just look at the different sauce consistencies and different shades of red between these two cook-off competitors alone:

Pretty intense difference huh?

Lunch was only $1.00! Breakfast was free! Okay Rachael, I think I'm doing pretty well on Day Three of my trip! Given that the main part of my lunch was only $1.00, my friend and I realized we could get something to drink and some gelato for dessert, and still be pretty darn good for our $40 a day objective.

Miss Spaghetti USA would have been proud of my cheapness, as breakfast and lunch cost me less than $5.00!

My friend and I decided to splurge in the evening on the seafood buffet at Toucan Charlie's Buffet in the Atlantis Casino. The cost? $50.00 for the both of us, and we got to stuff ourselves silly with crab legs, shrimp;

Lobster cakes, breaded and baked scallops, oysters rockefeller;

Raw oysters, and mussels cooked in cream.

Who prevailed? Whose cuisine reigns supreme? (Oh wait, that is from Iron Chef.) Well, the total for Day Three was only $30.00! I successfully ate in Reno for $40 a day (on average)! Hope this post gave you some ideas for eating on the cheap but eating quality food, in massive fried amounts!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Eat This Michelin-Man!

Excuse me, Mr. Michelin-Man? This post is for you. I want to make you salivate in jealously, as I feature Zuni, a restaurant that was unjustly and woefully omitted from your Michelin Guide listing.

Michelin-Man, can you imagine having the most taste bud-satisfying bloody Mary made from a thick tomato juice heavily infused with vodka, tart balsamic vinegar, and a liberal squeeze of lemon juice? Zuni serves these tomato cocktails topped with a mignonette of brunoised shallots that float and bob in the drink, and that impart a deep, rich, oniony flavor throughout the tomato puree.

Michelin-Man, also think about Zuni's Bellwether Farms ricotta gnocchi with wilted spinach leaves, crumbled and shelled pistachio nuts, and lemon zest freshly grated from the sharp panels of a microplane. The cheesy gnocchi pillows are delicately spongy, almost like fresh marshmallows, and one can taste the grainy cheese curds within the airy gnocchi bites. Think of high-quality Italian mozzarella Michelin-Man. I dare you to find this kind of gnocchi anywhere else.

Also, there are many other dishes of note Michelin-Man. Zuni serves heaping platterfuls of golden-fried shoestring potato fries, that are crisp to the bite and glittering with a uniform scattering of granulated salt crystals. They are delicious Michelin-Man, believe me. But even more delicious is the grilled steak of "blue nose" bass perched upon a sweet nest of red and orange pepperonata slivers. The moist fish steak is served with yellow Finnish potatoes that have a crisp and browned exterior shell and are steaming-hot and fluffy on the inside. Most importantly, the bass is served with a generous dollop of creamy and provocatively-flavored aioli, that acts as a luscious dipping sauce for the shoestring fries and roasted potatoes. The aioli isn't too heavy at all, but it is heavenly.

And the desserts Michelin-Man, they are unforgettable. The divine flavors from the pot de creme and flourless chocolate gateau will make you go insane.

So, have I changed your mind Michelin-Man? What do you think of Bay Area restaurants now? If I couldn't convince you, take a peek at some
other photos and read up on other posts chockful of praise for Zuni.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

In Pictures: Paella in the Sky

A dream came true this weekend--I was able to feast on home-cooked paella, with real Spanish saffron that a wonderful friend had brought with her to the U.S. from Europe. She made us paella with flame-roasted red bell peppers, Italian-style tomato puree, chewy calamari ring slices and tentacles, shell-on pink shrimp, and open-faced mussels. Green peas also were scattered across the paella pan and cooked into the softened long-grain rice. The rice was saturated with deliciousness, and was cooked until it formed a browned and crispy pan crust. Here are the pictures! Enjoy!

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